When Shiloh Gun Range in north Houston, Texas first offered free handgun courses to LGBT people in the wake of the Orlando shooting, they expected maybe 40 or 50 people. That was the estimate of General Manager Jeff Sanford.
Only a few weeks later, they have nearly 600 people signed up for 13 new courses, and over 100 have already completed theirs.
The courses are structured to qualify people for Texas’s concealed handgun license, which allows a person to carry openly or not in public, anywhere guns are not specifically disallowed. Shiloh had previously offered free classes to teachers, firefighters, and first responders.
The classes, which usually cost between $69 and $100, aren’t expensive anywhere, but LGBT people are coming from all over that part of the state, some of them driving for hours. Saving money isn’t the only incentive.
Gun culture is not often friendly to the LGBT community. In these classes, they’re guaranteed to be around like-minded people and don’t have to worry about their classmates.
The national LGBT opinion on firearms is heavily divided. A few large groups, like the Pink Pistols, say that it’s important for queer people to know how to defend themselves. But most national LGBT organizations are among the voices calling for stricter gun control measures.
They argue that the community arming itself will only contribute to the greater problem, which is the American fallacy of solving a gun problem with more guns.
But for people like Desaree Reyes, one of the many people taking advantage of Shiloh’s offer, the idea that she can carry a pistol provides comfort. She acknowledges that she remains a novice and that a chaotic situation of violence is a far cry from the controlled, safe space of a gun range, but she still considers herself ready to protect herself, her wife, or their children.